How to improve SEO on an eCommerce website
In competitive markets where instantaneous results are the goal, practices like SEO can be rejected in favour of more attributive, pay-per-click techniques like Google Ads and paid social.
However, this does not help the long-term success of any eCommerce website development. It only increases reliance on paid acquisition, while organic search results remain untapped.
Based on our years of experience in developing eCommerce websites, and working with online retailers and distributors to achieve their goals, we understand what is required when campaigning for valuable organic traffic.
Here we will provide an overview of SEO in eCommerce, taking you through chronological steps to begin improving the Google rankings of an online store you own, or are working on yourself.
Start with an SEO audit
We recommend starting your SEO journey with a full audit project.
This can either be done DIY if you have the expertise or by an agency that offers auditing services.
An SEO audit should cover:
- Keyword rankings
- Technical health of the website (crawlability and indexability)
- Domain strength
- Backlink profile
- Organic traffic
- Revenue from organic traffic
- Quick wins that you are missing out on
This will provide you with an important month 0 reading on your current SEO performance, meaning that a year or so down the line, you will have hard data to compare against. It will also identify the strengths and weaknesses of your current performance.
If you are a novice in SEO and do not know where to start, then this will be a useful introductory project that helps you to become familiarised with the key metrics and pillars of SEO.
If you don’t have the time, budget or expertise to begin with a full audit then we would recommend beginning with keyword research.
Establish a keyword list
Before you even attempt an SEO campaign, you are going to need an understanding of the search market in your industry. It is important that you have researched how your target customer is searching for the products that you provide.
This is called keyword research.
Until you understand this, your optimisation work will be without a clear direction and lose effectiveness.
To perform good keyword research, you will first need to unfold your product mix into a spreadsheet. Note down all of the categories, subcategories and products that you have. You now have the topics that you will need to research.
You may wish to invest in a search engine marketing tool like Moz, Semrush or Ahrefs. These tools will allow you to input phrases into a system, which will return additional suggestions to you, along with handy metrics like:
- Search volume (the average number of searches per month that the keyword has)
- Difficulty (a score that tells you how hard it is to rank for the keyword, usually between 1-100)
- The current top-performing results for the keyword
- The intent of the keyword, be it commercial, transactional, informational or otherwise
If you cannot invest in this, then simply type phrases into the Google search bar and look at the dropdown of suggestions that comes up.
The end result should be a list of relevant keywords that you want to target the first page of Google for. These searches should represent a commercial intent, adequate search volume and an achievable difficulty.
Beyond providing you with some clarity and a target for the work you are about to begin, it will also:
- Allow you to track the performance of your eCommerce website’s SEO. Now you have a keyword list, you can add it to a tracking system and keep a close eye on where your website ranks.
- Perform data-led competitor research. You may have previously used your gut instinct to determine which websites you are competing against. Now you have a keyword list, you can look at the first-page results for those searches, and analyse the websites that are ranking highly for the terms you are targeting.
The four pillars of eCommerce SEO
SEO is complex, with lots of factors to consider when it comes to improving a website. The best way to approach it is by breaking the campaign down into the four pillars of SEO:
- On-page SEO
- Off-page SEO
By sticking to these foundations and attributing your work to any one of the four, you will follow much more organised optimisation processes and ensure that you are not missing anything important when building your strategy.
Each of the four pillars is a beast in its own right. After years of experience in SEO, professionals often go on to specialise as experts in one pillar alone. It is worth bearing that in mind if you are hoping to improve SEO on an eCommerce website using your own time and resource; you may need to outsource some of the work and focus on what plays to your strengths.
Let’s talk you through each of the four pillars in more detail, with specific information on eCommerce websites.
Technical SEO for eCommerce Websites
Pillar name: Technical
Objective: Help Google to discover your website
There is a chronological process to this.
Your eCommerce website is crawled by Google, often on a daily basis. It takes a snapshot of your website and then determines which URLs should be indexed.
Indexation is based on a variety of factors which include mobile-friendliness, site speed and your website architecture along with others from the further three SEO pillars, which we will arrive at later in the piece.
Therefore, the fundamental components of technical SEO are:
- Crawlability: How easy it is for search engine crawlers to read and follow links in your site's content
- Indexability: Whether you allow search engines to show your site’s links in the search results
- Mobile-Friendliness: How well a website is designed and optimized to load on a mobile device
- Site Speed: How quickly users are able to see and interact with content
- Website Architecture: How your site is organized and webpages interlinked
Good eCommerce crawlability
You want your eCommerce website to be easily understood by Google’s crawler.
After all, it’s a robot, it doesn’t have eyes and a conscience (as far as we are aware) so it’s relying on clean code and fast load times to understand what you are selling.
How’s your site structure?
The website’s structure needs to be easy to follow, for users and crawlers alike.
There are limits to how much time Google can spend crawling a website, because the internet is so big, that it cannot attend to every URL that exists. This means that every website has a crawl budget.
To maximise your budget, you’re aiming for a good crawl depth. This is defined as ‘how far down into a website's page hierarchy a search engine spider crawls’ meaning that the architecture of your eCommerce website needs to be logical and clear.
At Venditan we aim for an architecture that ensures every page on the website can be accessed within three clicks: categories, subcategories (if required) and products.
Communicate your sitemap to Google
This is where your sitemap comes in, which acts as a blueprint for the pages, videos, and other files that your website has.
There are other types of sitemaps, such as the ones you would use to plan a website before designing and developing it. We are talking specifically about the structured listings intended for web crawlers, and this is typically an XML file hosted on your website.
If you have not yet already, get your website set up on Google Search Console.
This platform allows website managers to “measure your site's Search traffic and performance, fix issues, and make your site shine in Google Search results.”
Through Google Search Console you can specify the URL that your website’s sitemap.xml file is hosted on. This gives Google a push in the right direction and just helps with the overall crawlability of your eCommerce website.
Make use of internal links
As crawlability is all about encouraging Google to discover as much of your website as possible, internal links are particularly important for large eCommerce websites with a big product mix.
Internal links are just hyperlinks that allow navigation from one page of a website to another.
Yet, by inserting them across your website in a way that makes sense, you can help crawlers find priority pages even faster because they will follow these links through. This provides great benefits for pages that are buried deeper in your website’s architecture, like product variants and blog posts.
Keep an eye on your loading speed
With your crawl budget in mind, it is important to consider how long your website takes to load.
As you would expect, it’s a case of the faster, the better. Websites that load quickly will give crawlers more opportunity to visit as much of the website as possible before time runs out.
We recommend using Google PageSpeed Insights to check your website’s speed performance. It will test your website against Google Core Web Vitals. These are set criteria that Google have created to determine the experience a page offers, of which load speed is one factor.
On-page SEO for eCommerce Websites
Pillar name: On-page SEO
Objective: Help Google to understand your pages
While technical SEO focuses on the development and management of your eCommerce website, on-page SEO is concerned with the content of the individual pages that you own.
Not to be confused with the ‘Content’ pillar, on-page SEO increases the chances of the crawler understanding what a page is about by utilising formatting techniques that help it to make connections between the content and the user’s intent.
As smart and as intuitive as crawlers have become over time, they still need a little bit of help. We can organise and present our content in a readable way by using the following techniques:
- URL Slug: the part of the link after the main domain, for example, shop.com/products/blue-suede-shoes/
- Meta Information: The page title and meta description, used in SERPs
- H-Tags: Using logical heading structure (H1, H2, H3 and so on)
- Keyword Density: The number of times your target keyword appears in the content of the page
- Alt Text: Simple code added to images to explain what the image depicts
- Structured Data: a Google-standardized format for providing information about a page and classifying the page content
Let’s expand on some of these with particular insight into their eCommerce benefits.
Great product URLs
URLs have a huge impact on SEO. There are three key areas to focus on when it comes to maximising your product URLs: keywords, length and readability.
Try and include the target keyword in your product URL. For example, if you are selling scented candles, you may name your products based on the scent. It is in your best interests to include ‘scented candle’ in the URL, so you would opt for shop.com/sandalwood-myrrh-scented-candle as opposed to simply shop.com/sandalwood-myrrh
URL length doesn’t matter from an SEO perspective but it does help with your user experience when keeping them as short as concise as possible.
Finally, readability, where you should always place hyphens in between each separate word of the URL string. This means Google can clearly read the URL properly. Otherwise, the crawler would consider ‘sandalwoodmyrrh’ as one word.
‘But I thought meta descriptions aren’t relevant anymore’
True, Google has not used the meta description of a page as a search ranking factor since the early 2000s, but they still play a vital role in the success of your SEO campaign.
Well-produced meta information improves click-through rates from search results pages and should not be overlooked, even if you are working with a huge product inventory.
- Meta title - editable using your CMS
- Meta description - editable using your CMS
- Sitelinks - Automated by Google
The value of a logical heading structure
Perhaps the most important on-page SEO factor, it is critical that you use the correct H-tags to logically order the content on your page.
H1 - Only the primary heading of the page should use the H1 tag. This communicates the topic of the content to the crawler. This should be the product or category title.
H2 - Sections across the page can then be broken down using H2 tags. These subheadings are useful for PDPs and blog content.
H3 - If you wish to include sub-sections within your content then you can break these out using H3 tags.
H4, 5 and 6 also exist but are rarely used.
eCommerce-specific Structured Data
Some of Google’s structured data types are specific to eCommerce and can play a huge role in helping the crawler understand key information about a product.
When you add structured data to your product pages, Google search results (including Google Images and Google Lens) can show product information in richer ways and this can increase your click-through rate.
Users can see price, availability, review ratings, shipping information, and more right in search results. You can read more about this in detail here.
Content for eCommerce Websites
Pillar name: Content
Objective: Communicate your value
Even with well-optimised pages and all of the technical aspects in hand, you are still going to need high-quality content across your key pages if you wish to rank highly on Google. If your page is of poor quality, or lacking in enough content, it will not stand a chance of ranking where you need it to.
You can split eCommerce content into four types:
- Core content: the general pages of the website, like the homepage, about, contact, delivery & returns and so on
- PLP (Product Listings Pages): the copy on your category and subcategory pages
- PDP (Product Display Pages): the copy on your individual product pages
- Blog content: the blog content strategy
Every eCommerce website will have a number of general pages that all websites typically have. The main SEO opportunity lies in the homepage, where you may wish to optimise for an overall, descriptive search that summarises what you sell broadly: ‘used car dealership’ for example.
It is important to note that not every page needs to be painstakingly SEO-optimised. Take your About page, for example. This is a page that is used by users later on in their experience on your website.
Product listings pages are typically used to break an inventory down into categories, subcategories and collections. They provide a very powerful SEO opportunity beyond their structural purpose.
Not all potential customers are in the market for a specific product. Plenty are looking to browse a particular product type or range. In the wine industry, plenty of customers will be in the market for ‘red wine’ while others will search for a very specific vintage, region or year. So, it’s important that we maximise our PLP by:
- Adding rich, descriptive content to the page. This can be added above the fold or at the foot of the page depending on the amount of text you plan to add. We would recommend a minimum of 3-400 words per page. Add that, and then track your rankings over the next couple of months to see what effect it has had. The content should include the target keyword throughout, without appearing spammy.
- Showing short, excerpt summary text alongside the products on the PLP is a smart way of adding extra indexable content onto the page.
- Providing an FAQ resource will help you answer key user questions and increase the amount of content on these pages. Critically, this is valuable information, and you can even go as far as performing some keyword research into the most commonly searched questions for your product range.
Product display pages are the end of the funnel for an eCommerce website, it’s where the user arrives when they are ready to engage with a specific product in more detail. This gives us plenty of opportunity for rich content.
These pages require:
- Rich, descriptive content that takes the user through the product, its key features, and unique selling points. Some product display pages will contain an initial short description in close proximity to the key eCommerce functionality (Purchase, Add to Basket), along with another longer description elsewhere on the page. The longer description is often collapsible, to ensure the page is not text-heavy in design.
- This also applies to the technical information around the product such as sizing, delivery and returns.
- Product variations should all be accessible from the same URL, with the content remaining the same. If the different variations are split out onto new URLs then it is important that the content on these pages is fresh and unique.
- If you are stocking products from a manufacturer then you should always be wary of using only the supplied content. It is likely that this descriptive text is also used across various websites. Spending some time writing your own bespoke content will help differentiate your website from others.
Often underused and underappreciated, a consistent blog content strategy can have a very positive impact on your overall SEO efforts, and open your eCommerce website up to a new type of informational traffic.
Here are some of the key SEO benefits of a consistent blog content strategy:
Increased awareness of your business
By writing blog content that targets specific questions and themes around your products and services, you can open your website up to informational Google searches and deliver first-time users to your website.
Sure, it is unlikely that they will go on to convert during their first session on the website. They have found you because they wish to read your blog and find the answer to their question.
However, blog content acts as a first introduction to the business and serves as a great awareness piece, particularly if you can write the blog in a way that slips in your products whilst also giving the user the value that they need. That’s what we’re doing with this article right now.
Internal linking opportunity
Blog content provides you with the perfect opportunity to add more internal links pointing back to your most valuable, priority core pages. If you are writing a blog that explores the key features of your flagship product, you have several opportunities to link back to the URL that hosts the product itself.
For a refresher on the value that this brings, scroll back up to the ‘Make use of internal links’ subheading in the Technical SEO section.
Keep your website enriched
Google crawls your website periodically and takes note of the number of indexed pages that you have. This is referenced in your Google Search Console reporting. It reflects positively on your website for the number of indexed pages to be steadily increasing over time, as it demonstrates that the website is active and effort is being put into managing it.
Blogs earn backlinks
If you have produced a piece of content that is truly informative and valuable, then it has a good chance of being cited as a source in other writers’ future work. This means that the blog will be linked to by the external website, the benefits of which are discussed in the next and final section.
Increase your conversion rate
While not strictly SEO-related, it is worth mentioning that a regular blog content strategy can help to increase your conversion rate. 74% of companies say that content marketing is increasing their marketing teams' lead quality and quantity, by giving the user more insight into the products that are offered and reflecting positively on the company by showing them to be engaging and active online.
Off-page SEO for eCommerce Websites
Pillar name: Off-page SEO
Objective: Prove your authority to Google
Finally, we arrive at off-page SEO. If you are still reading the article then you are to be applauded!
Off-page SEO summarises the outside factors that affect your rankings, it is the work that you cannot control through your own website but is still important when it comes to improving your SEO.
We can break this practice in two:
- Backlinks: The quantity and quality of websites across the internet that link back to your own
- Reputation management: Your reviews and the mentions of your brand online
Buried down here towards the end of the article is backlinks, perhaps the most crucial aspect of SEO.
Simply put, a backlink is an external website linking to your own. Perhaps an influencer has been commissioned to provide a review of your product. If they did this in blog format and linked to your product in their work, this would be a backlink.
Google views links from other websites toward yours as the highest form of recommendation. If your website is being cited by other sources then it adds to your credibility and Google will be more inclined to rank your website higher, as a trustworthy website.
A page’s authority will increase with the number of backlinks that it has, so this is worth considering for your key category and product pages. Bear in mind that if you change this URL, then you must put a redirect in place to keep the backlinks that you have built over time.
SEO experts often get asked if it is best practice to have as many backlinks as possible. The answer is no. Although a high number of backlinks is no bad thing, the key is to focus on acquiring backlinks that are relevant to your website, and from a quality website in its own right. Steer well clear of paid link-building services, they will most likely add your website to link-building directories that inflate your statistics without providing any real value.
Reviews can have a significant impact on the success of any website, and they are particularly important for retailers who are judged on the quality of their products and level of service. External review platforms can be integrated with your eCommerce website to give potential customers an insight into your reputation.
Committing to improving the SEO of your eCommerce website may feel like too big of a task to take on, but by breaking the practice down into smaller pillars, with actionable tasks within them, you can begin to make improvements. It is important to remember that SEO is a long-term process and results are not instantaneous, but the gradual optimisation and improvement of your website through the steps outlined will result in an upturn in your Google rankings, and an eventual increase in organic traffic and revenue. You’ve just got to stick with it.
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